Philippines leads region in renewable energy initiatives

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We are on track to be among the first countries in the world to one day eliminate our reliance on oil. We have the resources, we just need to use them better, and sustainably. Good for the environment, good for the economy. I am no greenie greenpeace advocate, but it makes economic sense. It is my hope that government sees this potential and sets in motion the right environment in terms of policies and corruption, for renewable energy investment and development.

The Philippines was in an energy crisis in the first half of this year. The El Niño phenomenon had caused power supplies to trickle, bringing in its wake rolling blackouts and a temporary hike in electricity in oil prices.

A long-term solution, however, is well under way.

According to Vincent Perez, former DOE secretary and current chairman of the World Wildlife Fund in the Philippines, the Philippines is the regional leader in promoting the use of renewable power.

(The term “power” specifically refers to electricity, while the term “energy” is a general term.)

With its agricultural geography and its economy, the Philippines is well-situated for wind (particularly in the Ilocos region, thus Bongbong’s wind farms), solar (no explanation needed), geothermal (we are in the Pacific ring of fire and the second largest geothermal energy producer in the world) and hydroelectric power (Ma. Cristina Falls is a prime example), as well as power from biomass.

Biomass is a renewable energy resource derived from organisms, either as they are (such as coconut and sugar), or in the form of their wastes. These can be wastes that are normally burned in farmlands, or methane gas derived from places like Payatas.

“We hope to see these grow substantially in the next ten years with various emerging renewables,” said Perez, also the CEO and President of a renewable energy company called Alternergy.

The Renewable Energy Act has been labeled as the most aggressive renewable energy initiative in Southeast Asia.

Signed into law by former President Arroyo in 2008 (R.A. 9531), the Renewable Energy Act seeks to promote the development of renewable energy resources and its commercialization by providing incentives to institutions that invest in this sector.

Public and private institutions have responded aggressively and so far, with favorable results and prospects.

The Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) has taken the first steps on the ground by modifying the Philippines’ iconic jeepney. The E-jeepney emits no smoke and no noise. It runs on electricity, and powering it up costs at least Php 200 less than at the pump for a full day’s route, a significant daily savings in a country where a third of the population lives on less than a dollar a day.

“It’s mainly a solution that integrates what we already have,” said Red Constantino of the ICSC. “There’s no rocket science here, it’s all about application.”

Call it a glorified golf cart, but ICSC hopes to eventually replace all public vehicles in the country with E-Jeepneys. They’re already running for free at certain schedules in Makati and Puerto Princesa.

With E-Jeepneys, you don’t need to gas up. All you have to do is plug in for a few hours and you’re ready to go. And there lies the rub. No matter how clean and green these cars are, its energy source has to be clean and green as well before we can put Mother Nature’s stamp of approval.

The E-Jeepney is part of what could soon be a “green loop.” It’s a cycle where renewable sources produce clean energy, that will in turn power green technology. Former DOE Secretary Perez supports this vision. He says that one of the dreams he has is to build a series of gasoline stations that are now converted to solar-powered charging stations for future E-Jeepneys.

Or for that matter, any form of power from renewable energy sources. One alternative is power from biomass. Global Green Power is run by Briton David de Montaigne, his Filipina wife and a business partner. They have invested in the Philippines to build biomass plants around the country. They are building plants across the islands from Luzon to Mindanao, which will convert agricultural waste into usable energy. They already operate in China.

It’s potentially sustainable both ecologically and economically. De Montaigne estimates that their plants will pump Php 200M back into the economy in their first year of operations.

“It’s not just renewable energy, it’s not just climate change mitigation with biomass, it’s actually socio-economic development. We’re actually pulling people out of poverty,” he tells me.

Thirty-nine percent of the country’s power capacity currently comes from renewable sources. If government provides a fertile environment for continuing investments, experts reckon 2000 megawatts of renewable energy can be produced in 3 years at our current rate of development.

A promising prospect for a country that needs to sustainably develop an economy heavily dependent on its natural resources.

This report was originally filed in May for CCTV English, Beijing.

Ilocos windmills, photo pulled from Adaphobic's blog

Felicity